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Israel’s supreme court ruled Tuesday that ultra-Orthodox Jewish men are not exempt from being drafted into military service, a decision that threatens the stability of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government amid the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip, the Guardian reported.

In a unanimous ruling, the court said the state could no longer protect ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students from mandatory military service, ending decades of blanket exemptions. This decision follows the expiration of the original law in June 2023 that allowed for such exemptions. The court also ruled that yeshivas – Jewish Orthodox seminaries – would be ineligible for state funding unless their students enlisted.

The ruling came amid heightened tensions because of the ongoing conflict in Gaza and Netanyahu’s struggle to maintain his coalition, which includes the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) parties.

These parties have threatened to leave the coalition over the issue, potentially forcing new elections. Netanyahu – who faces corruption charges – is reliant on his coalition partners to stay in power.

Mandatory military service is an important aspect of Israeli national identity. However, ultra-Orthodox men have traditionally been exempt from service, and instead were expected to focus on religious studies. This situation has been opposed by military officers and reservists, complaining that it fosters inequality and undermines the readiness and inclusiveness of the Israeli Defense Forces.

The court did not specify enlistment quotas, leaving the implementation to the government and military.

The ultra-Orthodox community makes up 13 percent of Israel’s population and it is estimated to rise to 21 percent by 2042. Currently, about 63,000 ultra-Orthodox men are eligible for conscription, according to the court. The IDF has indicated it could draft 3,000 men in the upcoming year, according to the Times of Israel.

Following the court’s verdict, the pro-democracy group and principal petitioner, Movement for Quality Government in Israel, hailed the ruling as “a historic triumph” for equality and the rule of law.

The military, worried about its soldiers’ exhaustion from the war, has stepped up pressure on extending the draft to the ultra-Orthodox.

Meanwhile, government lawyers warned the court during the hearings that enforcing conscription on ultra-Orthodox men would “tear Israeli society apart.” UTJ minister Yitzhak Goldknopf called the decision “unfortunate and disappointing,” while emphasizing the importance of the Torah as “the cornerstone” of Israel’s existence.

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